Better, But Not Back to Normal

At Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden

What’s the most challenging part of recovery for you? For me, it’s when I’m better but not back to normal.

The acute phase is over, which brings a lot of relief. The severe pain has subsided. Self reliance is emerging in everyday life with a little bit of time and energy available to give to other people and projects.  More normal patterns of schedule, diet and exercise are being reestablished.

With so much progress, why is this stage of recovery the most challenging?

The temptation to complain: The inspiration to fight against a big, bad crisis brings a rush of hope and adrenalin to push through the beginning stages. After time, low-level physical and emotional challenges remain that still bring pain, time, attention and adjustments. I’ve been crabby about all that and more. And it impacts what I say and how I say it. Even if I were superwoman, which I’m not, positive thinking only lasts so long before it needs a recharge. This is the time when I’m looking for mine.

A tendency to make excuses: I’m wavering between a sick world and a well one, and this is a place filled with temptation to use sickness as an excuse. I know what you will say, and you’re right. Don’t be hard on yourself. Listen to your body. All of that is right and true. But at some point, I can’t just take a pass to avoid returning to real life. And maybe that’s the challenge. Everyday life is as much work as recovery; it’s just different work.

The draw of idleness: The antithesis of work is idleness, not rest. We all need rest, and I’m all for that, especially now. But at some point in the last couple of weeks, the three hours of television each day felt more like idleness than rest. I recognize that and can admit it to myself. Still, shifting into more mentally productive but still restful activities requires desire plus action. And the end of available episodes of the show I am watching on Netflix.

The anxiety of the unknown: By far the hardest challenge of recovery is a lack of confidence that good health or prosperity or whatever positive outcome will return. Every little or big setback seems to indicate that it will escalate rather than recede. And in reality, we honestly don’t know the outcome. Without faith in the future, I tend to feel I’m falling apart and won’t ever go back together. But little signs, too, have come, extending my vision beyond just now to a time of strength and productivity and joy for the future.

We are more vulnerable in times of trial. And we know that feeding the negative can stop progress. But seeing it for what it is and wanting to change shows that you and I are already closer to the point where we want to be.

Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Garden

Photos from Big Stone Mini Golf & Sculpture Garden on the 4th of July.




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My Nutrition Paradox

 Roasted Beets and Carrots

While the toughest part of recovery from intestinal surgery has been my restricted diet for the past month, the best part is the reawakening of my taste for simple food.

I’ve been on a low residue diet, which means that I shouldn’t eat foods that leave residue behind. The list of food I have to avoid is longer than the list of food that I can consume.

Here’s a sample of both:

Avoid: Dried fruits, fruits with skins, blueberries, pineapple, citrus fruits, all raw vegetables, cooked vegetables such as corn, peas, bean sprouts, green peppers, lettuce, mushrooms, spinach, greens, coleslaw, legumes, whole grains, seeds, tough meats, luncheon meats, hot dogs and brats, foods with seeds, nuts, pickles, olives, popcorn, gas-producing foods.

Allowed: canned fruits, apples and peaches and pears without peel, applesauce, melons, strawberries, cooked vegetables such as asparagus, beets, carrots, potato without skin, squash and sweet potato; refined white breads, fish, tender meat without skin, creamy peanut butter.

My body needs nutrition to heal, but many of the foods I generally go to for nutrients—raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains and those high in fiber—are the ones that can cause problems during recovery. How do I get what I need from eating white bread and soft foods?

Likewise, I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the television and lying in bed or on the couch doing nothing. My body needs rest to recover, but the activities that nourish my mind and spirit—reading, writing, studying, serving—have been difficult to do. How do I grow when my lack of energy limits my ability to think?

The paradox is that while I need physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment to heal, I can’t go to my usual foods, activities or routines for that strength.

Just as my taste for spicy curries or complex salads has been replaced with simple foods like beets and avocados or scrambled eggs and tuna fish so, too, have my emotional and spiritual needs adjusted.

I read in short segments of 10-15 minutes rather than commit to an afternoon with a book. I ask in prayer for spiritual experiences with my limited opportunities to worship. I ask more questions and allow conversations to go quiet rather than rushing forward with my answers.

One of those areas of adjustment has been a release from my responsibilities as the director of public affairs for the St. Cloud Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve served in this calling (the word we use to identify this unpaid service in the church) for four years and three months. A release is often a relief, especially in my current circumstances, but it can also feel like a dismantling of normal routines, roles and relationships.

In all of these changes, I have my days of breakdown when I feel like an observer of life rather than a participant. But most days I do remember that this is a temporary and I should spend it collecting observations and not wishing for participation.

That’s the trick about a lifetime of nourishment. Our bodies and our spirits change. Sometimes we recognize the need and initiate the changes. Other times circumstances force them upon us.

Either way, the change or need for change exists.

We can fight it. Or we can embrace the beets.

And like the beets, which are on the low-residue list, that change is bound to leave something unexpected behind. 


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Gratitude: The Answer to a Cancer Diagnosis?



Good Morning!

It is a beautiful day here in Minnesota, and I’m glad to be home with my family to enjoy their company and the good weather as I continue to recover from my second surgery.

The first was an appendectomy to remove a neuorendocrine carcinoid tumor. Because the tumor had invaded the nerve cells of the appendix, I had a right hemicolectomy a week ago, in which they took out the right side of my large intestines and reattached the two ends and removed the 12 lymph nodes, the accompanying blood vessels and some fatty tissue that surrounds those.

Recovery has been difficult, about two to three times more so than the last surgery.

I received a phone call from my surgeon yesterday. He said that in the biopsy of what they removed this time they found a 4 mm tumor in one of the 12 lymph nodes and another amidst the fatty tissue.

We are so grateful they performed that surgery. It was not just precautionary, but important to stop the spread.

For the future, that may mean they have removed all of the cancer, but we don’t really know. I have some follow-up appointments in the next few weeks, including one with a medical oncologist to determine what further scans or treatment they might do.

I turn 42 on Monday, which apparently is the answer to life, the universe and everything. This experience and our previous financial one has left me with a deeper gratitude for life, the universe and everything, but certainly not all the answers.

I do know Heavenly Father is real and aware of us. He does answer those concerns and questions I have, one at a time, not all at once. Sometimes that is a frustration, but I see His hand in helping me take the first steps in this journey when I didn’t know whether my symptoms where something or nothing. I still see His hand now as I focus on the small steps of recovery ahead of me.

Thank you for you love and concern and care. Many have asked what they can do. Your prayers have been tremendous. I call upon that help you’ve sought for me in those prayers in those critical moments of pain or need. They have helped.

I will continue to blog here about my experience and my desire to be grateful in any circumstances, whether it be sickness or health.


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On Loss and Living Onward

On Loss and Living Onward Strength

“I had a choice: I could remain cut off from others and become grief’s slave, or I could extend myself toward others and remain grief’s student.” Melissa Dalton-Bradford

It seems that for much of my adult life, I’ve had to make a similar choice. When I face challenges or losses of any kind, I can become a slave to the emotion of that challenge or I can extend myself and be tutored in the experience.

I read a new book by Melissa Dalton-Bradford On Loss and Living Onward at a most symbolic time of my life and season of the year. On Good Friday, two days after doctors removed a carcinoid tumor from my appendix, I opened this book about loss and grief and tried to process my own feelings about the life I imagined would be for me. I completed it the Monday after Easter Sunday. To ponder life and death at such a time is natural. To do so with such a fragile perspective of my own mortality at the same time that we recognized the death and resurrection of the Savior, brought a greater depth to my reading and understanding.

In her first book, Global Mom, Melissa Dalton-Bradford shared her story of the accidental death of her 18-year old son, Parker. On Loss and Living Onward is her second book and a unique departure from the memoir on living as an expatriate family.

Here, the author invites us into her own thought process regarding her grief with a collection of other writers’ words that spoke to her in her own time of mourning alongside her memorial essays that capture powerful examples surrounding her own grief experience.

This is not really a help manual for the grieving or those wanting to know how to mourn with those who mourn, although it does help immensely with that. But it is more of a glimpse into the raw, powerful, even sacred feelings that exist around this portal called death that will take each of us from this world one day and leave those who love us on this side.

Some of those feelings include anger, depression, sorrow and the sense of isolation that death brings.

“Isolation complicated our grief. But it offered us solitude as well.” Melissa Dalton-Bradford

But she takes us through that suffering to understand what she discovered from and while in the middle of it, including an understanding of her own continuing relationship with Parker and with God even as she continues to live.

“(The) sort of muscular confidence in the fact that God is present—and not passively, but passionately and personally—in our lives, banishes fear, limits pain, and enlarges our capacity to receive and radiate joy. It is God’s presence that stimulates divine joy; it is our faith in His presence that sustains such joy.” Melissa Dalton-Bradford

A few of my favorite quotes  that Melissa collected for her own understanding and comfort include:

“THE MOST IMPORTANT things are the hardest things to say.” —Stephen King, Different Seasons

“PAST TEARS ARE present strength.” George  MacDonald, Phantastes 

I believe a depth of feeling should mark most of our life experiences. I have not lost a son, but challenges seem to call my name in a way to show me that I cannot find joy in life without learning to find gratitude, love, faith, hope and knowledge within the very moments of suffering. How appropriate that I began this new chapter of this next health challenge with this new book.

Whether you are suffering a loss in your own life or want to comfort someone who is, this is a book to keep by your bedside during times of mourning. It is not a book to just finish, but like a book of scripture, to taste its verses and thoughts one at a time. The sampling from philosophers, grieving parents, writers, and ministers will bring a heart of understanding to a topic that is so easily misunderstood or mishandled. The author tutors all of us with the thoughts she has collected and the personal narratives she offers in how we might better respond to those who grieve with empathy rather than just sympathy.


Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. However, my review is my honest expression and my own opinion. 



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The Furnace Always Breaks At the Wrong Time

Patience with broken furnace

Duh! The furnace doesn’t break in the summer.

Two mornings this week we awoke to inside home temperatures at 58 degrees, which might be fine if it were 80 degrees outside, but, no, it’s Minnesota in an unseasonably cold December.

No, it couldn’t break at the start of the season when we’re checking the filter and running it as a test. It has to happens on the weekend when everyone is at home, repairmen operate on emergency rates and the temperature outside shows double-digits below zero.

And I’ve heard we’re not the only ones who’ve been huddled around space heaters.

Honestly, no time is really the right time for a problem or bad news, a stressful day or just one more thing on your plate.

Every Christmas since I decided I wanted to write for publication, I’ve had a big project deadline at Christmas. All those have led up to a really great chance to publish my first book next month, but it also adds a little pressure at an already stressful time of year.

I sighed audibly yesterday when I sent off what I thought was the last of my reviews of the edits. But just before I began typing this post, I received an email from the editor.

Subject line: Crazy schedule for next week

So I can bemoan the timing or I can adapt. “Adapt to your situation. Look at all the good things around you instead of all the bad things,” That’s what my friend David posted today on Facebook. Thanks, David; I will.

When our heat went out, we built a cozy spot where we could all warm up next to the fireplace with blankets, beef stew, books, chocolate and a beautiful Christmas Devotional. Everyone packed together tightly instead of spread out away from each other. Physical closeness invites emotional closeness. Sometimes with teenagers in the house, a problem has to bring that about.

When I have pressing deadlines, I worry that my work will be rushed off without reaching it’s best. Each and every year that I’ve completed a writing project at Christmas, the Spirit of the Season has enhanced my work, calmed my heart and directed me to seek help from Him who gave me talents. Without fail, I wrap up the work on my knees in gratitude for the miracles that seem to come, despite the hectic pace of the season.

In these days leading up to Christmas, when something breaks at the wrong time or the pressure feels too much, know that these “problems” may really be “gifts.”  Our adaptions may bring us together and bring us to Him whose birth we celebrate.

And for that, there is no better time.

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Gratitude around the Family Table

Live in Thanksgiving Daily

Orange and black bins lined the front walk of a house in our neighborhood last weekend. The family taking down their Halloween decorations have twice as many boxes as I do for Christmas. Most likely, just as soon as these decorations return to the garage, the Christmas boxes will come out.

But, in between candy and costumes and giving and receiving is a special period of time to protect just for you and your family—a month of thanksgiving.

Counting blessings doesn’t require a box of anything except maybe some pens and paper.

Giving thanks doesn’t require a special treat, although a meal will most likely mark its end.

Remembering doesn’t cost anything except a few minutes of time and a humble heart of gratitude.

Our tradition to “live in thanksgiving daily for (our) many mercies and blessings” during the month of November has taken different forms depending on the age of our children or our circumstances. Sometimes we’re formal, but more often we’re not. It’s always personal, but occasionally we share.

This year, we’re living in thanksgiving every day around our family table. Our  favorite Amish basket holds blank slips of paper, some pens for after the meal when we each pause and write a blessing, a gift, a tender mercy or anything. Then, we fold them back up and toss them in the basket until it overflows on our Thanksgiving table.

The simplicity of naming them one-by-one as a daily routine prepares us to recognize, receive and recall all we’ve been given before we even think about buying or wishing for more.

How do you express gratitude as a family?

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